A Swedish Town's Newest Residents Settle In And Make A New Start : Parallels Despite being overwhelmed by the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants last year, most Swedes still believe if refugees are fully integrated into Swedish life, they will eventually become an asset.
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A Swedish Town's Newest Residents Settle In And Make A New Start

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A Swedish Town's Newest Residents Settle In And Make A New Start

A Swedish Town's Newest Residents Settle In And Make A New Start

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Of all the countries accepting refugees and migrants escaping conflict in the Middle East, Sweden has taken in more per capita than any other European country. More than 160,000 people have poured into Sweden, and integration into Swedish life can be complicated. Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Class just ended at a community center in the southern Swedish town of Ronneby. This is the first stop for refugees in this area once they've been granted asylum. They get 60 hours of instruction on how to live in Sweden. The courses cover such things as how to rent an apartment, get a job and grow old here. Henrik Lovgren runs the program.

HENRIK LOVGREN: It's basically how to live and survive in Sweden - rules, culture, regulations - and also what obligations you have towards society, towards your neighbors and responsibility as a person, as a parent, as a fellow citizen.

MOHAMMAD ABDUALAMIR: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: The classes are taught in the refugees' native language by Swedes who originally came from the same countries, such as Iraqi Mohammad Abdualamir, who's been in Sweden eight years.

ABDUALAMIR: They're really trying hard to live and be part of this community and be effective.

BEARDSLEY: Abdualamir says many things about Sweden are a surprise for the refugees, such as how old people are cared for by the state, not their family, and how much freedom women have. But he says the refugees here were shocked by sexual assaults in Germany over New Year's Eve, which were blamed on gangs of migrants.

ABDUALAMIR: They're not interested in these problems. They're interested in how to avoid them, how to be positive in this community and thankful for all the service that they are getting.

MARTIN: In the capital of Stockholm, the Swedish labor ministry is stepping up its efforts to integrate refugees into the job market. Erik Nilsson is state secretary for employment. He says with Sweden's population aging and in decline, the government wants to turn the refugees into taxpayers as quickly as possible.

ERIK NILSSON: In a way, it's good for Sweden because we do need to have workforce, and the ones that are coming are mostly in productive ages. I mean, most of them are 20 to 40 years old, which means that they have a long professional life ahead of them.

BEARDSLEY: Nilsson says many of the refugees are also well-educated, and Sweden is making changes so they can be absorbed into the workforce faster. But not everyone sees things in such a positive light. Polls show the anti-immigration Sweden Democratic Party is gaining support. Ivar Arpi, a columnist with newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, says more people are listening to the party because they see their country changing.

IVAR ARPI: The thing to understand with the migration crisis when it comes to Sweden is it's much, much larger here than in - even in Germany. And Sweden, you can't go to small town in Sweden. Every town in Sweden has their own migration problem. I mean, the apartments - there are no more apartments.

BEARDSLEY: Back in Ronneby, Knut Hahn High School now counts 150 refugees among its student body. The kids are taught in Arabic until their Swedish is good enough for them to merge into regular classes. Seventeen-year-old Salam Hamdan arrived in Sweden from Syria last September.

SALAM HAMDAN: The first time here, it's a little hard. Everything is different what we used to. But we must learn from them. And yes, it's easy to learn and it's easy to get it.

BEARDSLEY: Hamdan says it's easy to get things because the Swedish students are very welcoming. But in the cafeteria, the Swedish and refugee kids don't seem to be mixing. Swedish senior Victor Mignot says there is goodwill, but some of the cultural differences make it difficult.

VICTOR MIGNOT: I really want to meet them, but it's hard with the language difficulties. It's also hard because they are acting different in the society than the Swedish people. And that can scare some people. Like, they talk really loud, and I know that people get bothered by that.

BEARDSLEY: Mignot says Swedes are quiet and reserved, and it might take a while before the two groups get used to each other. Eleanor Bearsley, NPR News, Ronneby, Sweden.

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